Ever since that bright genius at the SAS marketing department came up with the idea of profiling the airline more as a LCC in order to appeal to the the seemingly patriotic, hence mentally crippled Scandinavian leisure passengers (no pun intended). Flying SAS has quite frankly become a real pain in the a**. At least to me. In my world, being stuck in SAS Economy Class is like enduring a replication of hell, from the inside of an aluminium tube. I was betrayed by the airline I once loved, the airline who once upon a time was world famously known for their ”Scandinavian Hospitality”, had now turned into the likes of a sub standard low cost carrier.
The airline have for long self-proclaimed themselves as ”The World’s Most Innovative Airline”, which may be true depending on how you define the word ”innovation”. In SAS’s world being innovative means combining all the pain and agony of the LCC, with the price-tag of the full-service legacy, setting the standard for the airlines that would soon fall into the category named ”Faux Airlines”. In SAS’s world being innovative means inventing a centimetre thick sticker you put on the back of your iPhone to act as BP, which have never ever been reported as functioning, not a single time in the history of mankind. In SAS’s world being innovative means coming across as ”The World’s Most Environmentally Friendly Airline” while at the same time operating an armada fleet of fuel guzzling Mad Dogs. Quite frankly the only ”proper” innovations the airline has achieved was putting multiple passengers and flight segments on one single boarding pass, and inventing a new type of coffee pot that don’t wear out the wrists of the company’s elderly cabin staff.
As you’d imagine, in order to pull this grand act of hypocrisy, the airline has been forced to adapt a more friendly image, in order to still appeal for their clientele of. This has mainly been achieved by an overly excessive use of emotional marketing in their advert campaigns, and overemphasising the meaning of time (which also acts as a major punchline in their ads).
As much as I dislike SAS in their current state, it doesn’t mean that all my experiences with them have been bad. In fact over the past six years since I’ve flown them as a ”faux” carrier, I have had TWO very pleasant rides, both times SAS provided ”proper” service on the flights.
I Give You, SAS At Its Very Best! (pics) (by LH4116 Apr 17 2009 in Trip Reports)
”Flying It Fake” On SAS, ARN-DLM Rt In ”C” (pics) (by LH4116 Jul 5 2011 in Trip Reports)
With this in mind it goes without saying that SAS in my opinion have all the potential of becoming Europe’s best airline if only they weren’t so reluctant to try and pretend being that low cost carrier they’ll never be, have never been, and will never ever become! SAS in my opinion should instead focus on becoming that high quality, full service airline they once were back in the days. I sincerely hope that the airline at some point in the future will realise the importance of providing proper service to the costumers, and when they do they will have my fullest support!
Shortly after arriving on LX189 from Shanghai, I headed over to the SWISS Business Lounge for a shower, and some 3 hours of relaxing prior to my SAS flight back home to Stockholm.
At the reception, I was greeted by Alice, a rather unfriendly female attendant in her mid 50s.
To be quite frankly, I didn’t like the attitude of the lounge attendant since she basically refused to welcome me to the lounge, and was very reluctant to answering my requests in the first place. Heck, she didn’t even make an attempt to get my FFP card re-entered to the boarding pass. It could perhaps have been because of my young age, or preconceived notions about my race that was the reason for this scrumptious behaviour, nevertheless she wasn’t exactly making me feel welcome to this place, despite being a fare paying Business Class passenger.
If there’s anything I’ve learned during the past few months is that one should never really expect much from a Business Class Lounge, and quite frankly in this turned out to be the case for this lounge as well. While the seating areas looked nice and comfy, the place was quite a bit crowded, noisy and dark. I was quite surprised to see so many people in the lounge considering my visit was during a business holiday.
Nevertheless, I managed to find myself a nice comfy armchair and sat down with a glass of water while waiting for my turn to use the shower. Soon, my name was called over the speakers and I went down to the reception to collect the key for the shower facilities. Alice strictly informed me that they had a 20 minute time limit for using the showers. I complied with her notification, and was handed over the key after which I quickly ran over to the shower rooms located at the far end of the lounge.
The shower room both looked and felt much like a hotel bathroom. The amenities were rather basic, consisting of a generous helping of towels (and I didn’t have to pay for them. You hear that FlyingFinn76!), a hairdryer and two dispensers filled with shower gel. The amenities were more then sufficient for me as I already had my own toiletries in my backpack. Nevertheless, after a nice hydrating and relaxing shower, a shave, and a change of sweater, I was feeling nicely refreshed without any traces of jetlag left in the body at all.
Shortly afterwards, I headed back to the reception to return the key. In exchange I received a new boarding pass where my seat had been changed from 2F to 1A which was a very nice surprise since I often prefer to be seated at the front bulkhead row. But again, my status was not stated. With the new BP in hand, I headed over to the Smoker’s bar for a Cocktail.
My impressions of the Bar were rather positive, and since the place was rather empty at this hour the cigarette smoke wasn’t much of a problem. After all the alcohol consumed on the flight, I decided just to go for the non-alcoholic drink options this evening. The drink options were rather limited, so I settled with a ”Pelican”. A cocktail consisting of grapefruit juice, grenadine and pineapple juice.
To be quite honest, the ”Pelican” tasted more like orange juice with waay too much crushed ice. So I decided to have a ”Gulfstream” minus the Vodka which the bartender thought was very strange as he made some remarks to his colleague about it. I was however quite disappointed when the drink was served to me, as the barman for some reason had used white Curacao instead of Bols Blue (The proper Dutch stuff. Very goed stuff). After having spent roughly one hour in the bar, I headed back downstairs to the lounge to check out its offerings. Since I was still very stuffed from the previous flight, I decided only to have a glass of ice-water while spending the remaining hour surfing the free wifi on my iPhone.
At 7.15pm, I left the lounge and headed for gate A82 where my flight to Stockholm would depart.
As expected when arriving to the gate area, the place was mostly packed with Swedish leisure travellers. Pretty much all of them were wearing some form of attire that would indicate them having been on ski holiday in the alps, hence why many of them looked a bit sunburned. As I gazed through the windows, I was pleasantly surprised to find the mundane Boeing 737-600 replaced with a nowadays rare’ish MD-82. As Petteri Finn would say ”better catch a ride with them while you still can”, and I could only agree. The MD is perhaps my all time favourite short haul aircraft, and their comfort and flight characteristics simply cannot be matched by your everyday 737/A320. I knew already from the looks of it that this was going to be a good flight.
At 7.25pm the boarding was called on the PA. Business Class passengers and Star Alliance Gold Card holders were allowed to board the plane first, followed by families with children and then the rest. I was the first one in line, and after having had my boarding passed scanned by the friendly gorgeous looking Swiss-Italian girl manning the gate, I was released down the jetway.
At the door our stereotypical SAS grandmother purser Jeanette, a charmy blonde lady in her mid 50s who later came to be serving the Business Class section exclusively, was greeting the passengers welcome aboard the flight. With SAS being an airline reflecting our core scandinavian values of Jantelagen in their service concept, you shouldn’t expect the service from the crew to be as professionally ”Mövenpick Luxury Hotel’esque” as the crews on SWISS.
On SAS the crew treats you more like a guest being welcomed to their home, which in some ways felt really nice, warm and authentic. It was like taking a stroll down memory lane to the SAS of the olden days, where the Scandinavian Hospitality was airline’s main focus to the costumers, hence why the airline had gained such a good service reputation much similar to how we perceive Singapore Airlines today.
Feeling strangely happy and sentimental, I stowed by backpack and Docs in the overhead compartment before making the short beeline to my bulkhead seat 1A. As expected the seat was very soft, plush and comfortable. I don’t recall there being any short haul Economy Class seat out there that could match the comfort of those found on the SAS MD fleet. With nobody seated in the aisle seat, I was able to stretch out my legs without feeling restricted by the bulkhead.
As boarding was completed, it turned out that I was the only passenger seated in Business Class. Only this flight Business Class consisted only of row 1, whereas row 2 was Economy Extra. Both rows were situated in front of the curtain, and with nobody seated in Economy Extra I had the whole front section of the aircraft to myself. Economy Class appeared to be quite full on this flight, and as the boarding was in progress I received some strange, hence slightly surprised looks from the passengers.
Soon Jeanette approached my row to distribute pillows and newspapers.
My pillow and newspaper were promptly handed over to me. As expected the pillow turned out to be one those beautifully stylish Marimekko ones. As mentioned in my previous report, advert alliances are very common in the airline industry, and in SAS’s case they tend mostly to be promoting local designer home furniture brands such as Iittala, Marimekko, Orrefors, Georg Jensen, and Royal Copenhagen. IKEA is however NOT on the list of supported brands, as they in SAS’s world are ”too faux”. Please take note, fellow readers! Never ever associate SAS with IKEA any time in the future!
For some foolish reason, I handed over my jacket to Jeanette assuming that she would stove it in the closet like they did on my SWISS flight, but no dice she simply turned her back and walked away! Yes so it seems, Jantelagen is playing its role here ”In the folkhemmet, everyone stoves their own jackets” so I was left with either keeping the jacket in lap or stowing it in the overhead myself. I opted for the latter.
As is the case on all SAS flights, the aircraft pushed back bang on time. With the pushback slowly in progress, I could hear the distinct whine of the two Pratt&Whitney JT8D-217C engines being spooled to life. Following pushback was a quick and bumpy taxi to the runway before performing an extremely powerful and steep rocket-like takeoff – The true MD-80 style!
Following the takeoff was a steep and powerful climb, and a 180 degree U-turn offering some very spectacular night time views of Kloten Airport we flew right back over it. As is the case on all SAS flights, the seatbelt sign was turned off just 10 minutes after takeoff, followed by our female captain coming over the PA announcing the flightpath and quite strangely the service concepts offered in each cabin. This was in fact my third flight with the same female captain as I quickly recognised her voice, and the way that she always make announcements regarding the service concept from the cockpit despite it being the purser’s job. Also both my previous flights with her have been on the MD-80.
Soon, Jeanette appeared from the galley to draw the curtains separating Business/Economy Extra from the rest of the cabin. Yes, she made sure that the curtain was always properly shut throughout the flight, and she kept it well guarded by kicking out any Economy passenger from trying to enter the inner sanctum of short haul air travel. Truly excellent work SAS!
Service soon began by Jeanette coming around with a big basket containing all the high-end magazines that you normally only find in the stores.
After having just finished reading Niall Ferguson’s weekly anti-Obama column, Jeanette came around again with a tray of hot towels.
Shortly afterwards, Jeanette came to collect my towel before taking orders for the apéritif service.
My TJ and T were promptly placed on my tray table, along with the famous SAS tumblers handmade by Orrefors of Sweden, and a pack of salty nibbles.
Jeanette was keeping a close eye on me from the galley, and as soon as I had finished my nibbles and tomato juice she came out and served me the dinner tray.
The contents of the tray looked very similar to what LX offer in Business Class on the same route, except for the salad starter being replaced by an amuse bouché sized starter bowl containing a delicious piece of salmon fillet. The salmon as expected was absolutely delicious, it was rich in fat, and with the gentle seasoning the salmon’s natural flavours were nicely enhanced. This delicious treat was finished in one bite. Such a shame that they didn’t serve it in a larger portion.
The main course consisted of a very generous serving of pork fillet, estimated to be at least 250 grams. The meat was cooked to perfection as it had a nice and tender texture, and a juicy flavour. The rosemary seasoning blended in perfectly with the pork, much like basil does with tomato. The potatoes were not much to write home about, although edible when mixed with the béarnaise sauce that also tasted nicely lean, without that richness that it’s normally associated with. The roast beets and apples provided some very interesting flavours to the food. All in all, the main course was a huge success. Much better than what I was served for lunch on SWISS, previously that day.
By the time I had finished the main course, I was feeling incredibly stuffed. Finishing those two generous slices of cheese turned out to be quite the effort, although it did become manageable at the end. The bread was however skipped. Shortly afterwards, Jeanette came over to collect the tray.
The teacup along with the Toblerone chocolate bar were promptly taken off the tray, as Jeanette came back with my Bailey’s and poured me the tea from those distinctive custom designed ”SAS-pots”.
By the time my table had been cleared, I began feeling very sleepy. Maybe it was the Bailey’s or perhaps the time difference finally taking its toll. Nevertheless, I grabbed the Marimekko pillow, moved to the aisle seat 1D (the seat has enough legroom to stretch out fully), and went to sleep ”Petteri Finn-style”. I was later woken up by the sound of our female captain coming over the PA announcing that our landing at Arlanda would take place in 20 minutes. The seatbelt sign was turned back on, and the cabin was prepared for landing. I put my camera in the backpack, and moved back to my original seat 1A for the landing.
The approach can only be described as one of the scariest ones I have ever experienced in my entire lifetime. During our descent, we plunged down into a snowy storm could with some severe turbulence. The dense clouds surrounding the aircraft formed a bright halo as they were illuminated by the landing lights. The halo made it very difficult to determine whether the aircraft was close to the ground or not. The aircraft was thrown up and down violently by the turbulence, and the throttles were put to idle several times as the nose raised, giving the impression of the aircraft coming in for a landing while we in reality were still several thousand feet up in the air. It was by far one of the scariest approaches of my lifetime, and at one point I was really starting to have doubts on the pilot.
Luckily, our Mad Dog soon emerged from the cloud and the northern suburbs of Stockholm became visible down below. Slowly the aircraft made its final approach to Arlanda’s 01L/19R runway before gently kissing the tarmac. This was followed by a smooth breaking, and a taxi to the Schengen gates at Arlanda’s Terminal 5 before the engines spooled down as the aircraft docked to the gate bang on time, as always on Europe’s most punctuate airline for the 4th year in a row! Seatbelt sign was turned off, and the fluorescent lights illuminated the cabin as all the passengers were eager to grab their belongings and leave the aircraft as quickly as possible.
As usual, I stayed in my seat until everyone had left the plane since I wanted to make a little request from Jeanette and the rest of the crew. Soon, I approached the galley where Jeanette, her friendly colleagues from the back, and our female captain (who looked more like a school teacher then someone with the best job on the planet, flying the meanest, most old school and hard core flying machines out there!) were greeting the passengers goodbye. I thanked Jeanette for her excellent work this evening, making the flight truly memorable. Of course, my thanks were given to the captain as well for her impressive skills in tackling those storm clouds, and safely bringing us back to earth. Upon giving some complements about the lovely tableware, Jeanette instantly responded.
J: -”Well if you think our teacups look so nice, we’d gladly let you have one to take home as a souvenir”
Positively surprised by their generosity, I was more then happy to accept the teacup as a souvenir. I thanked the crew one final time before slowly exiting the aircraft, and making my way up the jetway and into the terminal. I couldn’t help but thinking that this must perhaps have been the best SAS flight, I have ever experienced. It felt great to have my home airline put a flawless end to a flawless vacation, making me one happy man.
What simply concludes this grand show of excellence is the fact that the Scandinavian Hospitality is not dead. It is still very much alive, just like back in the olden days which shows that SAS still have all the potential for being a truly great airline. However nowadays being welcomed as a guest into the home of SAS is not a right for all passengers like it used to be. Today being well treated by the warmth and friendliness of the crew is a privilege reserved exclusively for the passengers up front.
What makes it worse is the fact that the airline is highly reluctant to make this truly amazing service concept available to more passengers, as they’re strictly determined to charge top-top dollar by only selling full-flex tickets in both Business and Economy Extra. Reasonably priced Eco-to-Biz upgrade fares similar to those offered by British Airways and SWISS are sadly out of the question for SAS, mainly because they seem to live with the constant fear of loosing the boutiqueness and exclusivity of their short haul ”premium” concepts.
With that in mind, it is highly unlikely that I will ever fly SAS Business Class again in the near future which is quite sad since the airline I love to ”hate” finally managed to show off its best side. Nevertheless if SAS would ever decide to introduce similar Eco-to-Biz upgrade fares (or re-introduce free service in Economy Class) they will for sure make one happy and loyal costumer for many years to come. When that day will be is for faith to decide.
Feel free to have a look at my previous reports. The reports are categorised chronologically based on their time of publication.
Swiss Flatbed Business Class: PVG-ZRH +More (pics) (by LH4116 Jan 23 2012 in Trip Reports)
Proper Long Haul – Swiss Made: ARN-PVG Y (pics) (by LH4116 Jan 10 2012 in Trip Reports)
LH Italia, You Won’t Be Missed! ARN-MXP C (pics) (by LH4116 Oct 31 2011 in Trip Reports)
Parisian City Break à La Air France. ARN-CDG Y Rt (by LH4116 Aug 27 2011 in Trip Reports)
Long, Sleek And Still Blue. Finnair B757! (pics) (by LH4116 Aug 5 2011 in Trip Reports)
Off To Norway, On A Classic. ARN-BGO SAS Y (pics) (by LH4116 Jul 30 2011 in Trip Reports)
”Flying It Fake” On SAS, ARN-DLM Rt In ”C” (pics) (by LH4116 Jul 5 2011 in Trip Reports)
Norwegian ARN-GOT Inaugural Flights, Feb 17 (pics) (by LH4116 Feb 25 2011 in Trip Reports)
TAP Portugal, And The Moroccan Travesty (pics) (by LH4116 Jul 15 2010 in Trip Reports)
KLM Y, ARN-AMS R/t + Wonderful Holland (pics) (by LH4116 Oct 30 2009 in Trip Reports)
Trip Report: Train to Gothenburg, 1st Class (pics) (by LH4116 Jul 10 2009 in Non Aviation)
I Give You, SAS At Its Very Best! (pics) (by LH4116 Apr 17 2009 in Trip Reports)
Comments are much appreciated!